Germans From Russia

Written by GFS Carol

Catherine the Great (1729-1796) was solely responsible for the colonization in Russia by the Germans. Christened Princess Sophie Auguste Friederike of Anhalt-Zerbst, born at Stettin in the Prussian province of Pomerania now called Szczecin, Poland.

Catherine was introduced in her middle teens to the Grand Duke Peter and heir to the Russian throne. Peter and Sophie were married in 1745, in the Russian Orthodox Church and rechristened Sophie as Catherine, or the Russian name Ekaterina.

Catherine, accepting the Russian religion and the customs of Russia, gained popularity and many supporters.

In June of 1762, Catherine became empress after plotting with the palace guards to have her husband arrested. He apparently had a fight with the guards and died as a result of the wounds that were inflicted.

Catherine was an ambitious German princess who ended up as one of the most famous monarchs in Russian history. Catherine was very charming and was extremely intelligent. "She dominates the Russians, because she sees them from the perspective of an outsider. If she were Russian, she would be lost in the confusion of vague ideas, which animate Russian thinking. She is German, calm, clear-sighted, methodical. German in race and character, she became a great Russian Sovereign." (Sorel) In the manifesto of July 22, 1763, Catherine II promised the Germans freedom from taxes for thirty years and that they would remain free for eternity from military duty. All others would have the same rights as the Russian citizens. They would enjoy full freedom of religion and conscience.

The Seven Years War (1756-1763) was finally at an end and the people of Germany were eager to have peace restored to their lives. The German people, tired and hungry, seemed to have no hope. There was no work and no money to buy goods from the merchants or farmers. This came as an aftermath of war, followed by crop failures, and other economic disasters. Catherine's manifesto of 22 July 1763 has rightly been called "the cornerstone of the whole inner colonization of Russia."

Germany wanted to stop the emigration of its people, so the country issued an edict on 7 July 1768. This edict states in part "the ever increasing emigration abroad, without fulfilling the obligations of the imperial constitution, into regions which have no connection with the German Empire is forbidden". The emigration to the lower Volga, except for a few in the following years had come to an end.

There has been a lot of misunderstanding about the Volga Germans because of the fact that many different German groups had come to Russia, beginning as early as the 16th century. About 27,000 Germans came to the Volga region.

The emigrants were soon disillusioned with the treeless wilderness that was their new home. Fear and disappointment marked the first years on the steppe. In spite of this, 104 mother colonies were established along the Volga with some moving into the Black Sea Region near Odessa, Crimea, Bessarabia, and South Caucasus. The next generations of the Volga Germans gradually looked favorably upon the region and called it their Wolgaheimat (Volga homeland).

Researching your German from Russia is not an easy task, but it can be done with a lot of patience. You must first determine if yours are Volga Germans or Black Sea Germans from Russia. There is a big difference. The two areas were from different parts of Germany and settled in different parts of Russia at different times.

There were basically three religions for the German from Russia, Lutheran, Catholic and Mennonite. Knowing which religion yours was will also help you a great deal. The LDS has been extracting parish records that were stored in St. Petersburg. The Volga German records are not included. If you have Black Sea Catholics you will be able to get birth, death and marriage records.

AMERICAN HISTORICAL SOCIETY OF GERMANS FROM RUSSIA (AHSGR) (Volga Germans)
631 D Street
Lincoln, NE 68502-1199
(402) 474-3363
(402) 474-7229
Email: ahsgr@ahsgr.org
URL: http://www.ahsgr.org/

GERMANS FROM RUSSIA HERITAGE SOCIETY (Black Sea Germans)
1125 West Turnpike Avenue
Bismarck, ND 58501
(701) 223-6167
Email: rachel@grhs.org
URL: http://www.grhs.com/

FEEFHS
Federation of East European Family History Societies
PO Box 2347
Salt Lake City, UT 84110-2347
Email: info@feefhs.org
URL: http://feefhs.org/

Archives of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
8765 W. Higgins Road
Chicago, IL 60331-4198
URL: http://www.elca.org/archives/index.html

Mennonite Historical Society
URL: http://www.mmhs.org/prussia/mmhsgen3.htm

Master Listing of Germans From Russia on the Internet:
URL: http://pixel.cs.vt.edu/library/boxes/stahl/mastlist.html

RAGAS is the Russian-American Genealogical Archival Service. RAGAS is now an independent, self-supporting organization for assisting persons with a USSR/Russian Empire background in obtaining information concerning their ancestors from archives in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Estonia. It was organized in 1992.
RAGAS
1929 18th Street, NW
Suite 1112
Washington, DC 20009

Here are some excellent books and they can all be ordered from the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia. A book order form is on their web site.

The Immigration from Germany to Russia in the Years 1763 to 1862 by Karl Stumpp

Researching the Germans from Russia compiled by Michael Miller

Russian German Settlements in the United States by Richard Sallet

From Katherine to Khruschev, The Story of Russia’s Germans by Adam Giesinger

Thunder On The Steppe by Timothy J & Rosalinda Kloberdanz

Locating Your Immigrant Ancestor by James C. and Lila Lee Nagles

The Black Sea Germans In The Dakotas by George Rath

The German Russians by Karl Stumpp

Wir Wollen Deutsche Bleiben ( The Story of the Volga Germans) by George J. Walters



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